It’s Wednesday, October 3rd, and I’m waiting for electricity – again. In the meantime I try to use my time productively in regards of work, but it’s a little bit more complicated than back in Paris. This morning, the electricity has been down for at least four hours already, at the moment of starting to write this article.
I dim my computer screen to save energy, because I can’t be sure when the electricity will be disrupted again. Most of the time the electricity break lasts somewhere between seconds and about half an hour, but apparently breaks lasting for hours are not uncommon. At their worst, they can last even 16-18 hours a day.
For the country life itself, the outages don’t seem to be a vast problem as the farmers go on with their daily chores. The electrical irrigation systems will stop on the power outages, although they don’t significantly complicate the whole farming process: plants are quite resilient and can withstand to skip one watering if the outage lasts for several hours. Most of the daily life happens outdoors, and the few indoor activities, like cooking and showering, can be managed with the daylight coming in from the openings of the walls. Household water is hand pumped directly from the ground water and heat for cooking is produced by burning either wood ora wood substitute made of cow manure or made in a small bio gas plant – managed by each farmer themselves from the manure of their cows.
On this Wednesday the work at the cow barn was done in the silence of the radio, that normally keeps up cheerful atmosphere to work with Nepali and hindi musicFor me on the other hand, the electricity cuts bring quite a headache, since I don’t have access to the files that are stored online. As a Macbook user, chrome has turned out to be not compatible (if someone has a solution for this, please let me know!), so I can’t even edit the files I have managed to open before the power cut. I feel I can’t get any work done.
The Nepalese government has made promises to have continuous electricity across the country since 2016. In rural areas, many have only a few items in their homes- lightbulbs, a mobile phone, fan, maybe a TV. Towards the cities the consumption grows with computers and refrigerators, but from what I have seen, the consumption in Nepal compared to industrialized countries is still very modest. Despite the low consumption level, the government’s promise is not kept, as electricity outages are a part of daily life for the Nepalese.
I wonder how the country can keep working under these conditions. For offices, some have come up with a solution by installing generators to maintain workflow of the employees, like those in hospitals making sure the electricity keeps vital life-supporting machines functioning. Nevertheless, this is not a solution for all businesses and many still have to put their work on hold during the outages.
The energy in Nepal in mostly produced by hydropower. It is produced in power plants along the mountain rivers and streams. Hydropower is generally considered a sustainable form of energy production as it doesn’t release CO2 in the atmosphere, but it has some problems, too. First, many times the plants are quite far from the consumers this causes some of the energy to be spent just for it’s transportation. Often hydropower plants are based on dam construction, which allows them to utilise the entire water flow of the river. This is disrupting the river ecosystems, as fish cannot swim upstream to the spots where they can spawn, lay the eggs, and the turbines can injure them from swimming downstream.
Short but frequent outages yesterday made me realize we have to solve the issue one way or another, if we are to continue our work here, at Spiral Farm House. When brainstorming potential solutions, we decided the best options would be a regenerator and solar panels. A regenerator still needs to be fed by the power coming from the company that produces it now, whereas solar on the other hand, is independent from the current power supplier. Going for solar has more advantages as it will immediately accumulate savings on the electricity bill. Though, solar panels have quite short life-time, which adds up to their footprint. Especially producing and disposing the battery can’t be said to be very environmentally friendly, even if done in responsible recycling centers.
Here in Basantapur, a village of 35 households, three or four have installed solar panels. Most of them are small installations powering only four lightbulbs, while one of the household has a larger panel, which provides enough for the entire households consumption; 6 light bulbs, a mobile phone, and a TV.
We called the local solar panel company, and their offer for a panel and a 99 mAh battery, that has the capacity to power four light bulbs, a laptop, a mobile phone and a TV, was 370 USD. According to local knowledge the average annual income of a Nepalese family farmer, who constitute the large majority of farmers, is from zero to a few hundred US dollars a year. A solar panel becomes an expensive investment for them, remaining unaffordable for many.
The fact is that we need clean and reliable, but also affordable, energy sources in the 21st century, both for office work and farmers to irrigate their crops. In the context of Nepal, it’s crucial for many reasons- such as feeding the country and creating sustainable, economic ground for the farming sector. As hand pumping the water is very laborious, it’s hard to make a living in such way. Many farmers from the poorer end are unable to rotate crops and cultivate their land all year round, as they lack access to sufficient irrigation needs, which only contributes to their financial distress. Understandably, cultivation of only one crop is depriving the soil from the nutrients that the plants need to grow and gain in nutrition, which drives the farmers to use chemical fertilizers, subsidised by the government. What if there was another way?
Coming back to the issue of electricity, we found out from Sudarshan’s friend, that there is a way to get an irrigation system powered by solar panels that pumps the water from the ground water. After the government’s subsidy of 50%, the cost for the farmer remains 450 USD. After the initial investment for the pump, there are no costs for monthly premiums and unreliability of national power plants will not be an issue any longer. Therefore, having a financial aid for farmers is a question we need to ask and try to create access to that aid, which would have the potential to encourage them to try another way of farming- like organic!